Basketball Notes: WKU sends McDonald out in style

Senior guard Kahlil McDonald acknowledges the crowd after scoring a basket during Saturday’s senior night basketball game at Diddle Arena. McDonald scored 10 points including the game’s last 2 points to help WKU beat MTSU, 73-67.

Cole Claybourn

Saturday night was about as good as Kahlil McDonald could have envisioned it.

The senior was honored before WKU’s 73-67 win over Middle Tennessee State as part of Senior Night with all of his extended family, was one of four WKU players to finish in double figures, and helped lead his team to arguably its biggest win of the season over the Sun Belt Conference’s top team.

And when the Brooklyn, N.Y., native scored the last points of the game, it was the perfect ending for his final night at Diddle Arena.

“I guess it’s a blessing. There was a loose ball and I was the only one down there,” McDonald said of scoring the last bucket. “It was a blessing. I just thank God that I’m in this position in the first place. That’s the main thing.”

McDonald finished with 10 points in 28 minutes. 

Head Coach Ray Harper looked back on McDonald’s career and remembered him as a player who had to adjust to different roles while at WKU that he wasn’t used to.

Most importantly, McDonald never complained, Harper said.

“He’s a kid that came in here as a big-time shooter,” Harper said. “Had a rep of one of the top three-point shooters in the country out of a junior college — had committed to Marquette at one time, Oklahoma State was trying to sign him. Just a big-time rep.

“He never really got into a rhythm (at WKU). Then had to play point guard last season because of all the injuries and some of the different things that happened — but never complained.” 

McDonald had to assume that role again this season with freshman guard Kevin Kaspar ending his season with a knee injury. Then in Thursday’s win against Arkansas State, when junior guard Jamal Crook picked up his fourth foul with 18 minutes to go, McDonald stepped up.

“Jamal gets his fourth foul with 18 minutes to go and we’re down four points. What do we do? Kahlil probably plays the best game he’s played all season maybe,” Harper said. “Unselfish, making shots, making the extra pass — he’s playing like a senior right now and that is so good to see from a coaching standpoint.”

McDonald is now preparing for what will be his final Sun Belt Conference Tournament.

He has just one goal in mind.

“I know it’s my last, but I want to go out with a bang,” he said “Like I told you before. I want a ring. That’s the main goal right now is getting a ring.”

Toppers preaching mental toughness for Hot Springs 

With Saturday’s win, WKU assured itself of the No. 7 seed in next weekend’s Sun Belt Tournament in Hot Springs, Ark.

That means WKU will have to win four games in four days if it wants a trip to the NCAA Tournament.

“We got to be mentally tough and we have to tough because four games back-to-back is going to be hard for us,” freshman guard T.J. Price said. “We just got to be mentally tough and play defense — that’s the keys for us right now.”

Harper said he doesn’t think that feat will be tough for the team.

In fact, Harper said he thinks the players would prefer that to the alternative.

“They’ll be happier they’re playing four games in four days rather than four practices in four days, I promise you that,” Harper said. “The games will be much easier than some of the practices they’ve been through. That’s why we do it.

“It’s a grind and we push our guys because if we’re going to win you must be mentally tough. You can’t worry about those types of things. Players wanna play, so let’s play.”

Harper addresses fans after game

Harper could have gone to the locker room after WKU’s win over MTSU and the fans wouldn’t have thought anything of it.

But the recently named head coach, donning a red sport coat as part of WKU’s “red out,” headed back on the court, grabbed a microphone and addressed the sellout crowd of 7,326 fans.

“I just thought it was important,” Harper said. “I’ve always done that the last game of the season and I was headed to the locker room and I don’t even know who it was, someone suggested, ‘Hey, the fans are still here.’ I thought, Why not?’ They deserved a thank you. They’ve been there. They are terrific.”

Harper told the crowd, “Diddle Arena is alive,” which he later followed up with, “we’ve only just begun.”

It was the first sellout since WKU’s game against Louisville last season.

Harper said he’s expecting the same type of atmosphere all season next year.

“We ended the season this year with 7,326. Let’s start the season that way or if we can get another one in there, let’s get another one,” he said. “Each and every game let it be that many or more.”